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China plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon on Tuesday, which will shovel up the moon’s rocky soil and bring them back to Earth. If successful, it would be the first time any country has taken samples from the moon in more than 40 years.
The mission, called Chang’e-5, is part of a series of complex trips to the moon by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). In January 2019, China landed a spacecraft on the other side of the moon – something that had never been done before. If successful, China will only be the third country to have ever taken samples from the moon after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
The spacecraft is expected to launch from Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island, China, early Tuesday local time, which will be around noon.
It will collect about 4 pounds of surface material from a previously unexplored region over the course of a month – equivalent to about 14 Earth days – which will prevent electronics from being damaged in extreme cold temperatures overnight, according to the scientific journal Nature. The specimens are mostly stored at the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Astronomical Observatory of China in Beijing. It is not clear whether the samples will leave the country for external research.
The samples are important because they could help scientists understand volcanic activity on the moon and when volcanoes were last active. The moon’s rocks and soil could confirm that volcanoes were active billions of years recently than previously thought. If true, “we are rewriting the history of the moon,” said Xiao Long, a planetary geologist at China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. Nature.
The sample will be returned to Earth and parachuted into the Siziwang Banner grasslands of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China probably sometime in early December, NASA said.